Archive for May, 2009

I’m Okay When You’re Okay

At the tender age of eighteen, as I embarked upon my real life outside my parents’ home, as I was writing an inspired (insipid) essay for my college lit class at a local coffee shop, a charming blue-eyed gentleman engaged me in conversation. He lured me into his world with compliments and attention, and I was hooked. He turned out to be a narcissist, and I was his blossoming codependent better half.

Our relationship became increasingly abusive over the three years that we dated, both physically and psychologically. Like a good codependent, I felt responsible for his fickle moods, I caused his anger, I walked on eggshells around him, I had anxiety attacks worrying about him, I was attracted to his neediness, and I felt I had to give, give, give until I had nothing left. I often felt blindsided, bereft, guilty, lonely, and sick.

As the constant anxiety and abuse eroded what little self-esteem I had to begin with, I sought therapy for what I assumed to be a need for some help with stress management regarding my workload at college. My very patient head shrinker helped me to get a glimpse of reality. With her support, I realized that my problem was not merely an issue of stress caused by difficult course loads, my spirit was being killed by an abusive man.

After years of crying about family of origin issues in psychotherapy, after numerous subsequent failed relationships, and most importantly, after finding the grace and love of Christ Jesus, I healed. I learned who I was, and my codependency nearly vanished.

Perhaps as a result of my past (he can’t still affect me now!), or maybe because of all the feminist literature (hear me roar!) I inhaled in graduate school, I abhor the slightest notion that I may have codependent tendencies now.

In my imagination, I am this independent robot who has perfectly healthy boundaries and easily says no to unreasonable demands. While I respect the thoughts and feelings of others, I do not let them affect me. Everyone is responsible for himself, as am I. I never over-commit myself, I feel totally secure receiving gifts or compliments, I never worry how things will turn out. I certainly never feel victimized or unappreciated.

Alas, those tendencies do rear their ugly heads on occasion.

When I know I am acting with integrity, why do I let others’ reactions bother me? Why do I feel a sense of pride and self-worth when I reach out to help someone who is needy? Why do I let it affect my sense of self when someone is upset with me? Why do I doubt myself? Why would I rather someone else be comfortable than myself? Why do I worry? Why do I try to control circumstances? Why do I trivialize my own thoughts and feelings? Why do I repress my own anger?

I want to feel valued and loved, yet I feel an uneasiness that whispers that I am not deserving of love. Codependency is a shortcut to intimacy, but it is one that is not healthy and therefore does not work long term.

These symptoms reflect a lack of faith in God, the one who loves me unconditionally. It is His reaction alone that matters; it is He who gives me a sense of self-worth. He made me the way I am, and I can rest in His sovereign plan for me without worrying.


Supersize Me

A long time ago, I was institutionalized in a place called High School. It was a time when I smelled like teen spirit, I adored flannel shirts, and I listened to music that my mother despised from Seattle-based bands. There was an interesting girl in many of my classes who was both academically brilliant and artistically talented, and I admired her, but both of us were quiet and shy, and sadly, I never really got to know her.
However, through the magic of facebook, we are now “friends,” and she writes a witty and insightful blog called Unruly Helpmeet that I read while I should be working. She posted a commentary on body weight and size, and I can totally relate to her thoughts, struggles, and frustrations. Thank you for your authenticity, Helpmeet.

I, too, hated my body in high school and college, which was curvy in all the wrong ways (or so I perceived at the time), and oh, how I wanted the stick body with no hips and a teeny waist that my skinny friends had. One or two negative and critical remarks from dumb boys reverberated in my head, and I constantly felt worthless about my physique.

Beginning in high school and for the past 14 years, my driver’s license has read 5’3” and 130 pounds, but there have been times when I have weighed 30 pounds more and 30 pounds less than that since I was a teenager.

After college, I got into working out seriously, and I became a vegetarian and then a vegan, and I’m in great shape now, but it never feels like I am good enough, thin enough, toned enough. I physically push myself to the limit every night in the gym, and I never eat junk, but I still have nagging thoughts that I should have done ten more minutes of cardio, should have added twenty more pounds on the squat bar, should have put less peanut butter on that sandwich.

The pain of always feeling inferior, the constant comparisons, the incessant self-deprecating thoughts are so damaging.

As to Helpmeet’s comments about clothing and makeup, I still have no sense of style. I am 30 years old, and I get to wear jeans to work, and I shop in the junior’s department because (1) I don’t know how to buy grown-up clothes or put together actual outfits, and (2) I can never find women’s clothes that fit me anyway (women’s jeans all look like mom jeans on me, pants have hugely long crotches, horrid tapered legs, or God forbid, pleats, and a lot of it feels too baggy).

The little I know about clothes and makeup, I did not learn until the past few years, mostly by actually reading books on relevant cultural issues like how to apply makeup. The nice thing about being a bookworm is that most of the answers to life I have found by reading, thereby avoiding embarrassment from asking others for information and having them wonder what is wrong with me that I don’t know these things.

Sometimes I wish that one of my well-meaning friends would turn me in to Stacy and Clinton so I could get some real advice and a clothing budget that I’d never be able to afford while working my current job in non-profit. But I’m afraid of (1) giving up the clothes that I actually feel okay in, (2) being forced to shop, (3) having to actually wear grown-up clothes, (4) having to appear on television, and (5) having my hair cut. I admit that I’m fearful of uncertainty and change.

I don’t know the answers. I don’t know how we learn to feel better about ourselves (or at least not feel guilty that we feel badly about our appearance on top of hating our bodies). I don’t know how we stop the perpetual comparisons (superiority: “at least I’m not as fat as her” or inferiority: “I wish my thighs looked like that in jeans”).

Having faith in God and reminding myself that my identity comes from Him and not from society’s airbrushed ideals helps.

But it will always be a struggle.

Am I Fat?

I foolishly stepped on the scale this morning after a hiatus of a month of not weighing myself (was forced to at the doctor’s office last month), and I was so discouraged to see that I had gained more weight than I’m willing to put in writing. Now I remember why I keep defenestrating my scales. Sure, sure, Jesus loves me and all. . . but I think I subconsciously assume that He loves me in spite of my body, and I forget that He made my body just the way it is. I feel like such a hypocrite after all those discussions with my teenage discipleship group about finding our identities in Christ, not in worldly things like a silly (LIFE-ENDING, OMG I AM PANICKING) number on a scale.

Well, this article makes me feel a little better. It shows Faith Hill before and after she was airbrushed for the cover of Redbook.

P.S. de·fen·es·trate (dē-fěn’ĭ-strāt’)
tr.v. de·fen·es·trat·ed, de·fen·es·trat·ing, de·fen·es·trates
To throw out of a window.